The impact of facing children on the battlefield

Published: 28 March 2018 at 13:00

Soldier holding an AK47

Study into psychological effect on British soldiers wins national award

Research into how British soldiers are affected by encountering children in conflict zones has earned an Anglia Ruskin University academic a prestigious national award.

Dr Michelle Jones has won the inaugural Shirin M Rai Prize for International Relations for her PhD dissertation ‘Encountering Children in Conflict Zones: The British Experience’. The award was made by the Political Studies Association (PSA).

Dr Michelle Jones with PSA award
The research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, examined how modern warfare is fought among and alongside civilian populations, increasing the likelihood of soldiers encountering children during their military operations.

Dr Jones looked into the moral dilemma when a child, who is armed and capable of a lethal attack, is encountered by an adult soldier whose values resonate with the Western concept that children are innocent and in need of protection – and the consequences this can have both for an operation and for the psychological wellbeing of the soldier.

The thesis collated soldiers’ experiences from the conflicts in Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan to understand the various ways children can be encountered in conflict zones. 

The thesis recognises that the child involved in armed conflict can be a victim but, through the chaos of war, can also become perpetrators resulting in a moral dilemma for the adult soldier who has to face them. The thesis examines the reactions and experiences of adult soldiers and the need for bespoke military training.

The PSA judging panel described the dissertation as “an outstanding piece of research”.

Earlier this month, Dr Jones was awarded a Winston Churchill Fellowship, which will enable her to further her research into this subject.

Dr Jones, a research assistant at Anglia Ruskin’s Veterans and Families Institute, said: 

“I am tremendously proud to be the first recipient of the Shirin M Rai prize from the PSA. My research into children in conflict looks at an emotive but important aspect of modern warfare and it is a subject which requires plenty of further research.”

The thesis was completed at the University of Aberystwyth’s Department of International Politics.

Image shows Dr Michelle Jones with PSA award.